The Power of Intergenerational Programming
Long-term care in our country leaves much to be desired. Yes, there are wonderful nursing homes, assisted living and personal care facilities, memory care units, and retirement communities that offer different levels of care that attempt to provide an appropriate level of care for each resident. But the reality is that, even in the pristinely beautiful settings with doting caregivers and administrators, there is a great divide between our older adults, adults with chronic illness that require regular care, and adults with cognitive deficits. They are removed from our society at large, to “age in place,” in a setting focused on their needs alone. Community in these settings is typically limited to those who live there or work there on a daily basis. Volunteers may visit, children may come for a holiday show, but on the whole, our older population is segregated from larger society. Our society’s fear and avoidance of aging has clearly impacted this segregation, and we can see that it is not a very successful model. Most residents feel disconnected from the larger community and unclear what their purpose is. This disconnection often leads to mood and behavioral issues for residents struggling to adjust to a new life, away from the communities that supported them for the majority of their lives. Mood and behavioral issues are typically managed with psychotropic medications that increase their risk for falls and complicate medical issues with other side effects.
One of the more successful interventions I have seen and read about involves the incorporation of children into the communities of older adults. One such program is called the Intergenerational Learning Center in Seatlle, Washington. At this preschool, the young students meet with more than 400 older adults daily in planned activities that include music, dancing, art, lunch, storytelling and visiting (https://gma.yahoo.com/seattle-preschool-nursing-home-transforms-elderly-residents-201932520–abc-news-parenting.html).
The Grantmakers in Aging recognize the benefits of intergenerational programs that “foster cooperation and promote interaction among different generations.”
Benefits for youth and children include:
-increased involvement in school work
-improved reading scores
-appreciation for older people
-enhanced sense of belonging in their communities
Benefits for older adults include:
-fewer falls at shared sites
-more positive effect among older adults with dementia
-increased connectedness and less isolation
-enhanced feelings of self-worth
Benefits to the community include:
-enhanced awareness and appreciation of cultural heritage and traditions
-increased collaboration between local organizations
-more vibrant and cohesive communities
greater community support for school and youth programs
-improved learning environment in schools
Some communities have implemented daycare for children of staff that benefit everyone: the employer benefits from the employee morale that develops from staff being able to stay connected with their children throughout their work days; the staff members benefit from being able to see their children and feel connected to them while at work; the children benefit from seeing their parents daily and connecting to a larger community (as well as the benefits listed above); the residents of the communities benefit from being connected to a larger community (as well as the benefits listed above).
Recognizing the benefits involved in making some adaptations, such as intergenerational programming, in long term care facilities and communities, it is my hope that facilities of the future consider alternative approaches to socialization and activities. In the interim, Kids For Their Community will be joining forces with Whole Senior Care, LLC to begin intergenerational programming in long-term care facilities in the Media area. We plan to begin our first program at the beginning of 2016. Stay tuned for more information!